Tall Bearded Irises are amongst the most dramatic and colourful of perennials so the very best of them must be really impressive. And they are.
The RHS Iris Sub Committee - yes, there's a sub committee just for irises - has recently had its latest awards ratified and three Tall Bearded Irises performed so well in the trial at Wisley that they've been given the Award of Garden Merit.
They were planted in 2007 on the Portsmouth Field, usually known just as the trials field, and were assessed regularly during the flowering season. Using a points system, four specific qualities assessed: the overall quality of the plant, stem quality (robustness and branching), flower quality and the presentation of the flowers.
And out of 110 entries into the trial three gained an AGM, while one other had its AGM withheld until it becomes available to buy.
The lovely ‘Helen Dawn' (above, click to enlarge) is almost pure white. Reaching about 90cm/3ft, with six to eight buds on each stem, the standards (the three upper petals) are almost pure white while the falls (the three lower petals) are slightly creamier with an attractive network of pale veins. The white beard is yellow at the tip, deepening almost to orange in the throat, and the flowers have what iris-expert Claire Austin calls a "heavy sharp scent".
‘Helen Dawn' was raised by Australian breeder Graeme Grosvenor and registered back in 1998. It's a cross between ‘Skating Party' and ‘Scandia Delight'.
‘Diabolique' is almost the opposite in colour. The nearly-black buds open to heavily ruffled deep wine purple flowers, the falls slightly richer and more vinous than the standards. The blooms have good substance so are unusually weather resistant while the deep blue beard is short, but its colour stands out well. Reaching about 38in/97cm and with up to nine flowers on each stem, ‘Diabolique' makes quite an impact.
Raised by the prolific Schreiner's Gardens in Oregon, ‘Diabolique' has ‘Amethyst Flame' and ‘Melodrama', amongst others, in its background.
Also from Oregon is the last of the three Tall Bearded Irises to be given an AGM for 2009, ‘Paul Black'. This is taller, at 4ft/1.2m, with up to six buds per stem and is basically dark purple-blue with a fiery orange beard - like a flame in the night. Both the standards and the falls have a slightly inky look but fade to white in the throat. ‘Paul Black' was raised by Thomas Johnson and named for his partner at their iris nursery Mid-America Garden in Oregon